Richard II, 1 and 2 Henry IV, and Henry V. These closely connected history plays cover the--sometimes attenuated--reigns of these eponymous English kings: "how some have been deposed; some slain in war, some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed; some poison'd by their wives: some sleeping kill'd; all murder'd".
The first in the series, Richard II,
can be summarized as the downfall of a young, wastrel
monarch, Richard, and the rise of Henry Bolingbroke, beloved of the
people. Given the author of this play, you are right to assume that
there are endless layers of complexity to this history tale. In The Hollow Crown, Richard is played by Ben Wishaw, an actor that 007 fans will likely recognize from his role as Q in Skyfall
(2012). Wishaw's performance as the doomed king is extraordinarily
nuanced, as he alternates between imperious condescension and
One of the earliest standout
scenes in the adaptation is Richard's combative conversation with John
of Gaunt, played by the illustrious Patrick Stewart. Gaunt is ill to the
point of death in this scene, and is essentially using his poor health
as an excuse to clear his conscience and tell the young king what he
really thinks of him. Patrick Stewart is more than twice Ben Wishaw's
age and is playing the part of a dying man, yet his repudiation of the
young monarch is so forceful, so powerfully conveyed, that I actually
felt concern for the wilting king. (Stewart has such gravitas that I'm
convinced he could have done justice to any of the roles in this film.
Yes, the queen included.)
Bolingbroke, the man that
will inevitably take Richard's place on the throne, is a very different
type of adversary. He isn't quite the ambitious lord that Richard
believes him to be, but rather a man just ambitious enough to allow the
forces of history to make him king. Remember, this is Shakespeare
we're talking about, so the question of a character's motivation is
never a simple thing. Bolingbroke is played by Rory Kinnear, also an
alumnus of the 007 series. His performance is far less demanding than
that of Richard, the hysteric, but he does a fine job of conveying his
character's conflicted loyalties, as well as hinting at his dawning
realization: "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."
is, admittedly, a fairly grim affair. Apart from the king's absurdist
self-pity, there is little in the way of humor. But, the following Henry IV plays feature one of Shakespeare's most beloved creations: the corpulent, riotous, corrupter of youth, Sir John Falstaff.